Design studios often go to great lengths to promote a creative environment. That effort takes shape in a variety of ways, the most visible being interior design, furniture and studio layout. The details count, too, as Leah outlines in her article, “The Creative Office”. There are, however, intangible elements to a studio that create an environment of creativity and thought. The most influential intangible for me is music.
Music in the workplace has been the focus of many studies and discussion. The Workplace Doctors has a great article on such research, speaking to the kinds of music that have been shown to be successful in various environments. As many of us know by now, classical music promotes a calmness and enables people to focus leading to improved productivity. Similarly, light jazz has an affect on shoppers that encourages them to buy more. Certainly, when I hear Kenny G, I want to take out my credit card. Though, usually it’s to try and cut my ears off.
But, it’s not about “productivity”, is it? For design studios, it’s less about cranking out work and more about finding a groove, or setting up and environment for focus. Personally, I find it difficult to work without music. For me, a rhythm or a steady beat propels me forward. When I slow down, a drum beat breaks my creative “stuck”. My favorite source of design music is Pandora‘s “TripHop” station. It’s just ambient enough to stay out of the way during conversations or writing times, but just upbeat enough to affect my mood and provide some design swagger. Not everyone in the studio likes my tastes, though. And, when we trade off, we end up with an eclectic mix of 80’s, Classic Rock, Lady Gaga and even Mariachi (often accompanied by beer).
But, not all music works for everyone. And, more importantly, not everyone works with music. There is an implicit understanding that if someone asks for the music to be turned down or off, it’s for a valid reason and a fair request.
I’ve experimented a little with this for meetings I conduct at Adaptive Path. Often, attendees will come in to find ambient music playing. I’ve noticed this sets a calming mood and says to people what goes on in this meeting is different from where you just came. Focus and be “here”. I also use certain songs to build up to the beginning of a workshop or presentation. Elevating heart rates and stimulating minds can bring people up to a level I want them to be when I take to the stage.
But, the logistics of music in the office can be challenging, too. Design studios are a sound engineer’s nightmare – they are often large, open spaces with hard surfaces everywhere. This poses problems for distributing sound evenly and at a comfortable volume. Ideally, there are zones with individual volume controls allowing for environmental adjustment. Sometimes you have to divide up the music. Your lobby experience may not benefit from AC/DC as much as your visual designers do. Additionally there’s the challenge of controlling the music selections. It’s not always feasible to have people plug their iPods into the system when they want to hear a song.
How do you use music to set a creative environment where you work? Or, do you? Do you find background music to be stimulating or distracting? Have you noticed an impact on your staff and clients? And, what does your musical choice say about your workplace?
For more information on the pros and cons of music in the workplace, try these articles:
CNN - Music Do’s and Don’ts
Licensed under Creative Commons